Martin Luther.

The precious and sacred writings of Martin Luther ... based on the Kaiser chronological edition, with references to the Erlangen and Walch editions; (Volume 7) online

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65. In the Old Testament are many similar passages,


mysteriously used but unquestionably conclusive upon this
matter; for instance, Genesis 19, 24; "Jehovah rained upon
Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from Jehovah
out of heaven." What can it mean — "Jehovah," "from
Jehovah," — but that two persons are indicated, the Father
and the Son? Again (Zech 3, 2), "Jehovah said unto
Satan, Jehovah rebuke thee, O Satan." Observe here, God
himself speaks of another God. And again, in Psalm 68,
where frequent mention is made of God, it is stated (verse
18) : "Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led away
captives." With respect to ascension, however, reference
is only to the man Christ. Again, in the same Psalm (verse
28) we have, "Thy God hath commanded thy strength."
Further, it says God commands the power of God. And
there are many similar passages.

"And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning didst lay the
foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works
of thy hands; they shall perish; but thou continuest:
and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; arxd as
a mantle shalt thou roll them up, and they shall be
changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall
not fail."
66. How this quotation testifies that Christ is God is not
at once apparent. As written, it easily seems to refer to
God as one person. But we must take into consideration
the entire Psalm. The Psalm speaks of the future king-
dom of God, direction of which the Scriptures assign to
Christ. Among the various passages concerning Christ's
kingdom is a portion of this last-cited Psalm (Ps 102, 12-16) :
"But thou, O Jehovah, wilt abide for ever ; and thy memorial
name unto all generations. Thou wilt arise, and have mercy
upon Zion ; for it is time to have pity upon her, yea, the set
time is come. For thy servants [the apostles] take pleasure
in her stones, and have pity upon her dust. [That is,
through the Gospel. Reference is to Christ, whose servants
the apostles are, bringing^ the stones of Zion — the elect — to
grace, through their preaching. Such servants no earthly


king ever had.] So the nations shall fear the name of Je-
hovah, and all the kings of the earth thy glory. For Je-
hovah hath built up Zion ; he hath appeared in his glory."

67. The Psalm concludes with, "And thou, Lord, in the
beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth,'* etc. The
psalmist's evident conclusion is: The King whose servants
have favored the stones of Zion, who is proclaimed Vv^orld-
wide and commands the fear of the heathen and all the kings
of the earth, is the God who created the earth and is in him-
self unchangeable. No earthly king has ever been pro-
claimed among all the heathen as Christ has been pro-
claimed. Christ, then, is true God and true man. What
further comment the subject demands I leave for keener

68. So we see this whole epistle lesson is simply armor
to clearly maintain the article of faith that Christ is God,
and Lord over all things even in his humanity. We note
with amazement the perfect clearness of the Scripture teach-
ing and that the defect is in ourselves, unperceived. Well
does Luke speak (ch. 24, 32) of Christ's opening the under-
standing of the disciples to comprehend the Scriptures. It
was not the Scriptures he opened, but their understanding;
the former is plain, but our eyes are not fully open.

St. Stepben'8 Ba^

Epistle Text: Acts 6, 8-14, and 7, 54-60.

8 And Stephen, full of grace and power, wrought
great wonders and signs among the people. 9 But there
arose certain of them that were of the synagogue called
the synagogue of the Libertines, and of the Cyrenians,
and of the Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and Asia,
disputing with Stephen. 10 And they were not able to
withstand the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spake.
11 Then they suborned men, who said. We have heard
him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and
against God. 12 And they stirred up the people, and
the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and
seized him, and brought him into the council, 13 and
set up false witnesses, who said. This man ceaseth not
to speak words against this holy place, and the law:
14 for we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Naza-
reth shall destroy this place, and shall change the cus-
toms which Moses delivered unto us.

54 Now when they heard these things, they were cut
to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.
55 But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up sted-
fastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus
standing on the right hand of God, 56 and said, Behold,
I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing
on the right hand of God. 57 But they cried out with
a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and rushed upon
him with one accord; 58 and they cast him out of the
city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their
garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.
59 And they stoned Stephen, calling upon the Lord, and
saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. 60 And he
kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay
not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this,
he fell asleep. 194



1. It is necessary to the understanding of this epistle les-
son to introduce something of what is omitted and to present
in connection with the narrative the things which gave rise
to it. The dispute arose from Stephen's assertion that what-
soever proceeds not from faith does not proRt, and that men
cannot serve God by the erection of churches, or by works
independent of faith in Jesus Christ. Faith alone renders
us godly; faith alone builds the tem.ple of God — the believ-
ing hearts. The Jews opposed the doctrine of faith, adduc-
ing the law of Moses and the temple at Jerusalem. For the
Bible makes frequent m.ention of Jerusalem as God's chosen
city, toward which his eyes are always directed, a city
called the house of God. Such argument they presumed to
be conclusive.

2. Stephen, however, opposes them by citing Isaiah 66,
1-2: *'Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool:
what manner of house will ye build unto me? and what
place shall be my rest? For all these things hath my hand
made, and so all these things came to be, saith Jehovah."
This statement is clear and forcible beyond gainsaying. It
shows God does not dwell in houses made with hands, for
the essential elements of these are, in the first place, of his
own creating and belong to him. Further, if heaven nor
earth can contain him — and he here asserts that heaven is
not his house but his throne, and the earth not his habita-
tion but his footstool — how can he be expected to dwell
in a house made by men? Solomon speaks to the same pur-
pose in First Kings 8, 27, referring to the house he has him-
self built.

3. Defeated by the power of this passage from Isaiah,
and similar citations they could not gainsay, the Jews pro-
ceeded to misconstrue Stephen's words, making out that he
declared Jesus would destroy the temple and change the
customs of Moses. Yet Stephen had no intention of giving
such impression. He simply asserted that we are saved not
by the Law or the temple, but by faith in Jesus Christ;


and that having faith we may rightly observe the Law,
whether there be temple or not. Stephen's purpose was
merely to remove the Jews' false confidence in their ov/n
v/orks and in the temple.

4. Similar to them, the Papists of today, when they hear
it claimed that v/orks are not effectual and that faith in
Christ must precede and must be of sole efficacy, cry out
that good works are prohibited, and God's commandments
blasphemed. Were Stephen a preacher of today he might
not, it is true, be stoned, but he would be burned, or dis-
membered with tongs, by the enraged Papists.

5. Stephen replies to the false accusation of the Jews.
Beginning v/ith Abraham, he goes on through the Scriptures,
shov/ing how, previous to the time of Solomon who built
a house for God, neither Abraham nor any other of the
patriarchs ever built a house for his service, but they were
not for that reason thejess regarded of God. Then Stephen
adds the quotation fromx Isaiah. He says: ''But Solomon
built him a house. Howbeit the Most High dwelleth not
in houses made with hands ; as saith the prophet, The heaven
is my throne, and the earth the footstool of my feet: what
manner of house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what
is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these

6. After these words he rebukes them, saying: "Ye
stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do al-
ways resist the Holy Spirit: as your fathers did, so do ye.
Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? and
they killed them that showed before of the coming of the
Righteous One; of whom ye have now become betrayers
and m.urderers ; ye who received the law as it was ordained
by angels, and kept it not."

7. Now follows the latter part of our lesson, beginning,
"Now when they heard these things, they were cut to the
heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth." Evi-
dently, then, the dispute v/as in regard to faith and good
works. But how is it with the Papists, who have not the


least semblance of grounds for their position other than their
own human laws and doctrines? If they could produce for
themselves a shadow of support such as the Jews had in
adducing that God gave the law of Moses and chose the
temple at Jerusalem, they would instantly raise a cry of,
"By divine right" (de jure divino), as in fact did their fore-
fathers the Jews.


8. This epistle text seems to be not at all difficult;
it is plain. It presents in Stephen an example of the faith
of Christ. Little comment is necessary. We shall examine
it briefly. The first principle it teaches is, we cannot secure
the favor of God by erecting churches and other institutions.
Stephen makes this fact plain in his citation from Isaiah.

9. But if we are to take this position and maintain it,
we must incur the same risk Stephen did. Such position
calls for the doing away with the bulls of the Pope, with in-
numerable indulgences, laws of the ecclesiasts and inces-
sant preaching about churches, altars, institutions, cloisters,
chalices, bells, tables, candles and apparel. Thus would
the holiness of the Pope and his adherents be offended, and
not without reason. For in consequence, luxuries of kitchen
and cellar would be diminished, and all temporal possessions
as well. In course of time idleness, voluptuousness and
ease would have to give place to labor, poverty and unrest.
The clerical order would be obliged to study and pray, or
support themselves like other people do. Such a course
would not be agreeable to them. The holy Christian Church
would be despised, as were Christ and the apostles. Her
officials could no longer live in royal pomp, waging war,
plundering, and shedding blood, all under the pretext of
honoring God and exalting the holy Church. For this have
the most holy fathers in God done, and still do.

10. We must not, however, be led to conclude it is wrong
to build and endow churches. But it is wrong to go to
the extreme of forfeiting faith and love in the effort, pre-


suming thereby to do good works meriting God's favor. It
results in abuses precluding all moderation. Every nook
and corner is filled with churches and cloisters, regardless
of the object of church-building.

11. There is no other reason for building churches than
to afford a place where Christians may assemble to pray,
to hear the Gospel and to receive the sacraments; if indeed
there is a reason. When churches cease to be used for
these purposes they should be pulled down, as other build-
ings are when no longer of use. As it is now, the desire
of every individual in the world is to establish his own
chapel or altar, even his own mass, with a view of securing
salvation, of purchasing heaven.

12. Is it not a miserable, a deplorable, error and delusion
to teach innocent people to depend on their works to the
great disparagement of their Christian faith? Better to de-
stroy ail the churches and cathedrals in the world, to burn
them to ashes — it is less sinful even when done through ma-
lice — than to allow one soul to be misled and lost by such
error. God has given no special com.mand in regard to the
building of churches, but he has issued his commands in ref-
erence to our souls — his real and peculiar churches. Paul
says concerning them (1 Cor 3, 16-17) : "Ye are a temple
[church] of God ... If any man destroyeth the tem-
ple of God, him shall God destroy."

13. But observe the holiness of the Papists. The foun-
dation of every soul is disturbed by their error, and the real
Church of God is overthrown. This fact does not deter
the Papists; indeed, they willingly contribute to the over-
throw of the Church. By their doctrine of works they
effect nothing else but the destruction everywhere of the
true Church. Then they proceed to substitute for it church
buildings, of wood and stone. They misuse the conscience
until It believes the trivial defacement by knife of such
wood and stone is a profanation of the whole church, and
the expense and labor of reconsecration must be incurred.
Are not the individuals who have no conscientious scruples


about the destruction of the actual Church, who even con-
vert that great sin into eternal merit, and at the same time
are extremely conscientious about the vain juggling of their
own church building — are they not raving, raging, foolish
and fanatical? yes, frantic, infuriated?

I continue to assert that for the sake of exterminating the
error mentioned, it v/ould be well to overthrow at once all
the churches in the world, and to utilize ordinary dwellings
or the open air for preaching, praying and baptizing, and
for all Christian requirements.

14. Especially is there justification for so doing because
of the worthless reason the Papists assign for building
churches. Christ preached for over three years, but only
three days in the temple at Jerusalem. The remainder of the
time he spoke in the schools of the Jews, in the wilderness, on
the mountains, in ships, at the feasts and otherwise in private
dwellings. John the Baptist never entered the temple; he
preached by the Jordan River and in all places. The apostles
preached in the market-place and streets of Jerusalem on the
day of Pentecost. Philip preached in a chariot to the eunuch.
Paul preached to the people by the riverside; in the Philip-
pian jail and in various private dwellings. In fact, Christ
commanded the apostles (Mt 10, 12) to preach in private
houses. I presume the preachers mentioned were equally
good with those of today.

15. But it must be that costly buildings with magnificent
arches are required for the false preachers and diabolical
teachers of today, though the Word of God could find in
all Bethlehem no inn wherein to be born. Should we not,
then, with Stephen cry unto these unreasonable creatures:
"Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do
always resist the Holy Spirit. Ye are betrayers and mur-
derers of innocent, harmless Christian souls. Though hav-
ing received the commandments from the apostles, ye have
observed none of them"? I suppose, should we do so, their
hearts would be ready to burst with rage and they would
gnash their teeth, saying we had blasphemed against God


and spoken against the holy place; yes, had profaned all
churches. O God, the blind leaders, and murderers of souls,
who rule under the accursed popery!

16. You see now some reason why lightning strikes the
costly Papist churches more frequently than it does other
buildings. Apparently the wrath of God especially rests
upon them because there greater sins are committed, more
blasphemies uttered and greater destruction of souls and
of churches wrought than take place in brothels and in
thieves' dens. The keeper of a public brothel is less a sin-
ner than the preacher who does not deliver the true Gospel,
and the brothel is not so bad as the false preacher's Church.
Even were the proprietor of the brothel daily to prostitute
virgins, godly wives and nuns, avv7ful and abominable as
such action would be, he would not be any worse nor would
he work more harm than those papistical preachers.

17. Does this astonish you? Remember, the false
preacher's doctrine effects nothing but daily to lead astray
and to violate souls nev/ly born in baptism — young Chris-
tians, tender souls, the pure, consecrated virgin brides of
Christ. Since the evil is wrought spiritually, not bodily, no
one observes it; but God is beyond measure displeased. In
his wrath he cries, through the prophets, in unm.istakable
terms, Thou harlot v/ho invitest every passer-by! So little
can God tolerate false preaching. Jeremiah in his prayer
(Lam 5, 11) makes this complaint, "They ravished the
women in Zion, the virgins in the cities of Judah." Now, spir-
itual virginity, the Christian faith, is immeasurably superior
to bodily purity ; for it alone can obtain heaven.

18. The false doctrines and works of the Papists are
destructive not only of faith, but also of Christian love. The
fool may alv/ays be known by his cap. Many a man passes
by his poor neighbor who has a sick child or wife, or is
otherwise in need of assistance, and makes no effort to min-
ister to him, but instead contributes to endow some church.
Or else while health remains he endeavors to heap up treas-
ures, and when he comes at last to his deathbed makes a


will bequeathing his estate to some certain institution. He
will be surrounded by priests and monks. They will extol
his act, absolve the religious man, administer the Sacra-
ment and bury him with honors. They will proclaim his
nam.e from the pulpit and during mass, and will cry ; "Here
is worthy conduct indeed! The man has made ample pro-
vision for his soul. Many blessings will hereafter be con-
ferred upon him." Yes, hereafter but, alas, eternally too

19. But no one while he is living warns of the man's
sins in not administering to the wants of his neighbor when
it lies in his power to relieve ; in passing him by, and ignor-
ing him as the rich man did Lazarus in the Gospel. And
he does not himself recognize his sins. Hence they must
remain unconfessed, unrepented of and unabsolved, however
many bulls, indulgences and spiritual fathers may have
served. This neglect is the very sin concerning which
Christ on the day of judgment will say: "I was .
naked, and ye clothed me not." Mt 25, 43. The religious
one will then reply, "I heaped up treasures to establish an,
institution for thee, in obedience to the Pope's decree, and
hence he has absolved me from all my sins." What can in-
dividuals such as he expect to hear but the sentence: "De-
part from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire"? For by their
works they destroy the Christian faith, and for the sake of
mere wood and stone despise Christian love.

20. Let us, therefore, beloved friends, be wise; wisdom
IS essential. Let us truly learn we are saved through faith
in Christ and that alone. This fact has been made sufficiently
manifest. Then let no one rely upon his own works. Let
us in our lifetime engage only in such works as shall profit
our neighbors, being indifferent to testament and institution,
and direct our efforts to bettering the full course of our
neighbors' lives.

21. It is related of a pious woman, St. Elizabeth, that
once upon entering a cloister and seeing on the wall a fine
painting portraying the sufferings of our Lord, she ex-


claimed: "The cost of this painting should have been saved
for the sustenance of the body; the sufferings of Christ are
to be painted on your hearts." How forcibly this godly ut-
terance is directed against the things generally regarded
precious ! Were St. Elizabeth so to speak today, th-e Papists
assuredly would burn her for blaspheming against the suf-
ferings of Christ and for condemning good works. She
would be denounced as a heretic, though her merits were
to surpass the combined merits of ten saints.


22. Stephen not only rejects the conceptions of the Jews
in regard to churches and their erection, but also denounces
all their works, saying they have received the Law by the
disposition of angels and have not kept it. So the Jews in
return reprove Stephen as if he had spoken against the
temple and, further, blasphemed the law of Moses and
would teach strange works. True, Stephen could not rightly
have charged them with failure to observe the Law, so
far as external works are considered. For they were cir-
cumcised, and observed the rules in regard to meats, ap-
parel and festivals, and all Moses' commands. It was their
consciousness of having observed the Law that led them
to stone him.

23. But Stephen's words were prompted by the same
spirit that moved Paul when he said (Rom 3, 20ff) that by
the deeds of the Law no one is justified in the sight of God,
faith alone being the justifier. Where the Holy Spirit is
not present to grant grace, man's heart cannot favor the
Law of God ; it would prefer the Law did not exist. Every
individual is conscious of his own apathy and disinclination
toward what is good, and of his readiness to do evil. As
Moses says (Gen 8, 21), "The imagination of man's heart
is evil from his youth."

Man, then, being unwilling, he has no real delight in do-
ing the works of the Law. Lacking right motive, he is con-
strained to works through fear of punishment, of shame and


hell, or else through gainful motive and hope of salvation;
not through love of God and desire to honor him. All
works so wrought are sheer hypocrisy, and in God's sight
are not good. But the Holy Spirit is promised to the be-
liever in Christ, and through Christ's grace the Spirit pro-
duces in the heart a desire for good. Under its influence the
individual voluntarily and without expectation of reward
performs his good works for the honor of God. Through
faith and the Spirit he is already justified and in a saved
condition, a state he could never have attained by any
works. In accordance with this principle, we may readily
conclude that all who lack faith and grace fail to observe the
Law, even though they torture themselves to death with its

24. When Stephen declares the Jews always resist the
Holy Spirit, he means to imply that through their works
they become presumptuous, are not inclined to accept the
Spirit's aid and are unwilling their works be rejected as in-
effectual. Ever working and working to satisfy the de-
mands of the Law, but without fulfilling its least require-
ment, they remain hypocrites to the end. Unwilling to em-
brace the faith whereby they would be able to accomplish
good works, and the grace of the Spirit that would create
a love for the Law, they make impossible the free, spon-
taneous observance of it. But the voluntary observer of the
Law, and no other, God accepts.

25. Stephen calls the Jews "stiffnecked, uncircumcised in
heart and ears" because they refuse to listen and under-
stand. They continually cry, "Good works, good works!
Law, Law !" though not effecting the least thing themselves.
Just so do our Papists. As their forefathers did, so do
the descendants, the mass of this generation; they perse-
cute the righteous and boast it is done for the sake of God
and his Law. Now we have the substance of this lesson.
But let us examine it a little further.




26. First, we see in Stephen's conduct love toward God
and man. He manifests his love to God by earnestly and
severely censuring the Jews, calling them betrayers, mur-
derers and transgressors of the whole Law, yes stiffnecked,
and saying they resist the fulfilment of the Law and resist
also the Holy Spirit himself. More than that, he calls them
"uncircumcised in heart and ears." How could he have cen-
sured them any more severely? So completely does he
strip them of every creditable thing, it would seem as if
he were moved by impatience and wrath.

27. But who today would the world tolerate were he to
attempt such censure of the Papists? Stephen's love for

Online LibraryMartin LutherThe precious and sacred writings of Martin Luther ... based on the Kaiser chronological edition, with references to the Erlangen and Walch editions; (Volume 7) → online text (page 17 of 29)